The degree of precision that the algorithm has developed creeps me—and lots of other users—out. But I also kind of like it. I like the tasteful mesh bras that I have since ordered in bulk. I love Arq’s cultish high-rise underwear. Kate McLeod’s moisturizing “stones,” best described as solid sticks of butter that melt on contact with skin, were a revelation. The entire experience of shopping via Instagram reminded me of one of the best prepandemic activities: the mindless browse. It’s hard to believe now, but once upon a time, in between errands downtown or on a walk home, I would walk into a store for no reason and just look around. No toilet paper to procure, no list of groceries to shop for once a week. No hand sanitizer station. Just a store full of beautiful things, and me, with an hour to kill before the dentist.
With that kind of shopping off the table, Instagram is an inexhaustible substitute. Has its knack for knowing the precise pair of sweatpants I most crave sometimes concerned me? Sure. But so far, I have not disturbed enough to resist the temptation of a Pangaia sweatsuit.
A few months ago I took the habit public. “Want a gift guide that’s just a list of things people succumbed to via Instagram ads that turned out to be great,” I tweeted. No one supplied quite that, but dozens of people responded with their picks: Third Love bras, Misen knives, the Great Jones sheet pan that I also own (and love). Someone described Arq underwear as her “life’s passion.” Swimwear brands were hit-or-miss, but people were wild for their Brooklinen sheets, and I got two recommendations for Olive & June nail polish. All told, I got at least 50 different recommendations, most of which retail for between a few bucks and about $75.
When I was little, my mother would sometimes pick me up from school and whisk me off for what she called an “in-and-out” afternoon. It started as an excuse to take care of a bunch of the kinds of errands that seem to pile up with small children—store credits that had to be spent, exchanges of one pair of shoes for a size up, new dance leotards.
But somehow the concept morphed, and it came to mean instead the experience of just looking around for fun. Walking in and out of stores, not in pursuit of something in particular, not planning to shop—just the two of us, laughing in dressing rooms, stopping for hot chocolate with extra whipped cream between excursions. Sometimes I got new clothes. Once I got a glow-in-the-dark plastic handbag. Most of the time we just looked around. It wasn’t about the actual acquisitions (although I did love that bag); it was more like a little vacation. A few hours or even a few minutes of hanging out, letting ourselves imagine just how good life would be in a bandana-print tankini.
Until that kind of shopping is possible, I will accept this social-media-mediated substitute and be grateful for it. When it’s time to go outside again, I’ll be here—in washable-silk pajamas.
Mattie Kahn is Glamour’s culture director.